Developer: Long Hat House
Publisher: Raw Fury
Release Date: 06/02/2018
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mobile Devices
Metroidvania titles are a dime a dozen these days, so when one comes along it typically needs to have some unique twist for it to really grab my attention. Dandara, the debut title from Brazilian game developers Long Hat House, does just that with its interesting approach to controlling the titular protagonist.
Dandara is a metroidvania title with a great 16-bit styled aesthetic, which will probably sound familiar to a lot of folk. However, it has a unique hook in that you can only move around by jumping between every wall, ceiling, and floor in the environment and latching onto them. It might sound a little limiting on paper, but it actually works nicely and offers a lot of freedom to player.
Dandara puts you in the shoes of Dandara (what did you expect?), who is awoken in a world that is starting to fall apart with its inhabitants oppressed by strange forces. That’s what I made of the narrative anyway; it isn’t something that’s always clearly told to you in-game, with the bulk of the storytelling found within the world itself and the occasional interaction with an NPC. I’ll admit, I wasn’t overly invested in the story, but I did enjoy being a part of a world that was full of strange and mysterious sights.
As mentioned, Dandara is a metroidvania-like adventure that sees you travelling across a massive world that’s full of areas that you can’t reach until you’ve unlocked specific powers. It’s a genre that I’m sure just about everyone is familiar with, so the core mechanics of the game should be easy enough to grasp.
However, Dandara is unique in that you can’t move around freely by running or jumping through platforming sections, but instead by dashing from wall to wall in quick jumps. You control the angle of Dandara’s jumps with the left stick, and a quick press of a button then sees you latch onto that surface. You can’t necessarily attach everywhere and sometimes you’ll have to find the perfect angle to reach each spot, but there is a lot of freedom in where you want to go – plus, the world around you will often spin and shift around to keep up with your movement.
It’s a very neat little system and it certainly adds a unique twist to the game, but it can also be tricky to keep on top of at times. Whilst zipping across the map in quick little leaps feels cool, there’ll be times when areas are inundated with enemies and projectiles coming your way. It takes a real precise touch to navigate these areas unscathed, and with a constant demand for quick movements you’re often left stuck in deadly situations. Dandara can be pretty unforgiving at times and death is seemingly around every corner, so it’ll take some practice to master the art of navigation – it definitely doesn’t stop it being fun, though.
Fortunately, it shouldn’t take you too long to master it, with the game giving plenty of opportunities by constantly sending you backtracking through its maze-like environments. It can actually be a little tricky to know where exactly you need to go at times and with so many different routes to take, you can expect to get lost a lot. As long as you follow your map and look for those rooms that have un-opened doors though, you should be fine.
You continually earn new upgrades that’ll allow you to progress to previously unreachable areas too, including a special missile that can smash through walls, a more powerful jump that’ll launch you further, and even a strange skull that can interact with special areas of the environment. That last one was one of my favourites – as mentioned, you’re backtracking a lot, but the skull can see the whole environment change around you. Whilst this does mean that you’re able to progress further, it also leaves you open to all new traps too, so it does mean you’ve still got to keep a close eye on what were once familiar areas.
Whilst I generally found it easy enough to get around, there was one minor beef I had with the map. When you enter a room and jump around, it’ll often start rotating with the player. This is fine and a cool visual effect, but it also makes it difficult to work out where exactly you are on the map. There were so many occasions where I went through the wrong door because I couldn’t work out where I was, and whilst it might seem like a minor issue in-game, it did annoy me on more than a few occasions.
It’s not just leaping around and exploring the world that you’ll be doing in Dandara though; there are plenty of enemies to vanquish in the game too. You can aim your weapon freely, with a quick charge of your gun allowing you to unleash a few blasts upon your foes with ease. It doesn’t have a massive range on it though, with it feeling more like a shotgun than a rifle – you’re going to have to get pretty close to your enemies if you want to land some effective shots. Don’t worry though, the unlockable attacking abilities do give you a bit more range a little later in the game.
Dandara keeps sending a good variety of enemies your way, so you’ll constantly have to adapt your fighting style if you want to stay on top of them. Whilst it starts off with enemies that move around and attack you with melee attacks or launch basic projectiles your way, eventually you’ll face off against foes that shoot homing projectiles at you or constantly move around and dash at you with their attacks (those Reaper-like enemies towards the end of the game are brutal). Whilst I certainly suffered plenty of painful deaths at their hands, I appreciated that the game constantly kept things varied and ensured you always had something new to be wary of.
I was a little disappointed in the lack of challenge from the boss encounters, though. The boss battles are great in design and look good in-game, but I never died once whilst facing them. Whilst I’ll admit that I was well-equipped for the last battle, I even beat the final boss in one attempt. Maybe I’m just the greatest Dandara player in the world – who knows?
Whilst the bosses didn’t kill me though, everything else did. You can expect to die a lot in Dandara, whether it by the hands of the countless foes that surround you or just the deadly environment and its many traps. The game certainly pushes your skills to the limit and there’ll be times where you’ll wonder how the hell you’re supposed to get through an area unscathed. Fortunately though, it never frustrates or feels unfair – it balances the difficulty with intuitive gameplay, and whilst the controls do demand precision, it’s simply down to you to master them. The campsite checkpoints are always relatively near too, so you’re never sent too far back if you die.
The fact you can level Dandara up does help though, with the salt you earn from defeating enemies or find in the environment used to improve your skills. You can only level up your health, your energy, and how effective your healing potions are, though any improvements you can make are handy when working through the games trickier sections.
Oh, it’s worth mentioning that the game has a Dark Souls-like twist too – if you die you lose all your salt, though fortunately you can recover it if you manage to get to your point of death without dying again in the meantime. At least there’s some reprieve for your constant failures, right?
It’s also probably worth mentioning that Dandara isn’t the longest game you’re going to play, with my playthrough lasting just under six hours in total. I’m pretty sure I found everything the game had to offer too, with the map fully explored and every chest I came across opened. There was one door I couldn’t open (which I’m going to figure out!), though I don’t think that it’ll really add to the length all that much. Personally, it felt long enough for me, but those who’re expecting a massively meaty adventure might be left a little underwhelmed.
I really enjoyed my time with Dandara. Its unique approach to navigation was fun to play around with and actually felt different to the norm, whilst the constantly shifting world design and tricky encounters with enemies added an enjoyable challenge to the adventure. Sure, the demand for absolute precision might not be for everyone and the constant backtracking could can feel like a chore, but I never felt like the game was ever overly harsh or that it ever became boring.
The adventure as a whole might be a little short-lived with it clocking in at around six hours, but it’s certainly one that’s worth being a part of. Metroidvania fans absolutely need to check it out, but those who just enjoy a unique little action title will enjoy their time with Dandara too.